One of the methods used around the world to authenticate votes and prevent electoral fraud is to stain the voter’s finger with a special indelible ink: this makes the person recognizable and prevents him from voting twice. It is a method used for decades in many countries, which over time has also caused various problems: there are those who have questioned its validity, perhaps for political purposes, but also those who have exploited the recognition due to the ink for threaten people into not voting.
Indelible electoral ink has been used since the 1960s and is still used in many countries: it is normally used as an additional guarantee together with other forms of verification of voter identity, such as documents.
Concretely it works like this: once he arrives at the polling station, the voter is invited to dip his finger (the index, usually the left) in a bottle of ink, or in an impregnated sponge, or a sign is made on the finger with a brush or pen. Very often the ink is purple, other times it is blue: in contact with the skin it can change color and become black or brown. Usually the ink also reaches the cuticle of the fingers, i.e. the cuticles around the nails, from which it is more difficult to remove.
Over time, indelible electoral ink has been used by over 100 countries around the world. Many of these, Asians but also Africans, got their supplies from one of the largest manufacturers of indelible electoral ink, Mysore Paints, from India and founded in 1937 by the Indian prince Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, who when he died three years later was one of the richest in the world.
There is a whole turnover around the sale of indelible electoral ink: with the sale of ink used in the 2019 Indian elections alone, Mysore Paints earned the equivalent of around 3 million euros, with around 2.6 million bottles of ink sold all over India, where some 900 million people voted.
What makes electoral ink indelible is silver nitrate, the same substance contained in pencils used to vote in polling stations in other countries, including Italy. It allows the ink to stay on the skin for about a month. The inks used to vote must be tested and approved by a series of protocols that ensure their suitability for that type of use.
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Electoral ink is considered an effective method of avoiding electoral fraud, along with others used by other countries. However, over time there have been those who have questioned its validity, arguing for example that it is easier than expected to remove the ink from your fingers and therefore vote twice. There are various videos on YouTube that explain how to do it, advising for example to rub lemon juice, salt or other things on your fingers, sometimes the most disparate.
In some countries this type of objection has been used to try to block elections or to contest the result. This happened in the presidential elections in Afghanistan in 2004, where almost all the candidates competing with then-President Hamid Karzai (who later won) announced their intention to boycott the elections because they did not trust the anti-fraud measures: they argued in particular that the ink used to mark voters’ fingers was not indelible enough.
One country where results were contested on the basis of election ink is Malaysia. In the general elections of 2013, the ink authentication method was introduced for the first time in the country (the parliament had been discussing the introduction of new methods to improve anti-fraud methods in elections for some years): the opposition to the coalition which had just won the election contested the results calling them invalid due to electoral fraud, again claiming that the ink was not indelible enough.
In other cases the electoral ink system has been used to control voters, preventing them from voting. It happened in Peru, where during the presidential elections of 1985 the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso ordered civilians not to vote, threatening to cut off the fingers of the children of those whose fingers were stained with ink. It also happened in Afghanistan, where in the past years the Taliban have repeatedly threatened voters to cut off their fingers if they voted, taking advantage of the recognition given by the ink. In some cases they did.
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